April 22, 2009
Making a Cold Smoker from a Trash Can

In the world of charcuterie, cold smoking is applying smoke to meat without much heat in the attempt to get the smoke flavor into the meat without cooking the meat. The most common examples are bacon and smoked salmon, which are both basically uncooked by the smoke. Ideally you want your cold smoker to be below 100°F. This can be hard to do since you need fire to make smoke.

I never had a good way to cold smoke meat since I have a traditional hot smoker. I stumbled into the site of my new friend Nick Dawson and saw his design for a cold smoker from a trash can. I liked the idea and was one step ahead since I had a top vented hot smoker already.

I had pork belly curing to make bacon in the fridge, so I decided to build a cold smoker.

Here is a diagram of the idea behind a cold smoker.

Basically the smoke is made in the hot smoker, then sent via hose into the cold smoker where the meat resides.

I bought most of the gear at the hardware store, trash can, grill, duct take offs, duct adapter, duct collars, foil tape, vent, bolts & washers, and hose ducting.

The top vent of my hot smoker is 6" in diameter, but the duct takeoffs are 4", so I had to use an adapter to make a good seal. Fairly easy to do with the foil tape.

Next, I used tin snips to cut a hole in the side of the can to mount the duct takeoff. The snips cut through the trash can like butter...

Making sure I was wearing gloves, I fit the takeoff into the trash can and used foil tape to seal up the junction and cover any sharp edges.

The vent was mounted on the lid. I used the snips to cut down the vent shaft and make tabs to hold it in place. Again, the foil tape was perfect to seal things up.

Long bolts with washers were installed on the four sides to use as a rest for the grill that will hold the meat. I made a mistake and used carriage bolts, which didn't give me an easy way to tighten them. I should have used hex bolts.

With pretty much everything in place, I did the last step and connect the ducting from the hot smoker to the trash can. Doesn't look great, but it is functional.

The moment of truth. I fire up the hot smoker and hope to see smoke actually enter the cold smoke chamber. After about 15 minutes the wood chips finally catch and smoke appears. I was greatly relieved.

I put the lid ont eh trash can and sure enough, smoke slowly left via the vent. Success!

Here is a short video of the cold smoker in action.

Cold Smoker made from a Trash Can from Michael Pusateri on Vimeo.

Here is the pork belly in place, being cold smoked. Everythign was workign great.

The bacon turned out great. You can read about making bacon from scratch here.

Here is inside the cold smoker after the cooking. A little smoke residue and moisture, as to be expected. Otherwise, in perfect condition for my next charcuterie experiment.

If you want to to this yourself, my advice is to be sure to wear good work gloves when cutting the metal and joining pieces. The edges are sharp and you could get a nasty cut if you aren't careful.

Posted by michael at 08:21 PM | Comments (8)
April 21, 2009
Homemade Bacon

Perhaps one of the most beloved foods in our house is bacon. We've tried all kinds and like most of them. After reading up a bit, I learned that making bacon isn't really that complicated.

This is a pork belly.

Bacon is made from pork belly. To be clear, American bacon is cured and smoked pork belly, British back bacon is cured pork loin. I am American, so I make bacon from pork belly.

The first step is curing the pork belly with a dry cure of salt, sugar, and pink salt (sodium nitrite). The main purpose of the cure is to prevent any bacterial growth on the meat and draw out some water.

Let's remember that refrigeration is a relatively new invention. In the past, a big life problem was finding ways to preserve meat for use long after it was killed. Curing by salting, smoking, and drying are methods to prevent meat from spoiling. Making bacon was a way to save the pork belly for later use. Pork belly was also the main ingredient of salt pork, a mainstay of the military diet for centuries.

I triple bagged the meat and put it in the refrigerator to cure for a week.

After a week, I pulled the now cured pork belly out and washed it well. I patted it dry and prepared it for a smoke.

Traditionally, bacon is cold smoked. The goal is to apply smoke to the meat without cooking it. That means keeping the temperature well under 150° F. That's not easy to do in a traditional smoker. So, I built a cold smoker unit from my regular smoker and a trash can. I'll post more about that project.

Here is the cured pork belly being smoked. The goal is to get a good amount of flavor into the meat without cooking it.

I smoked it for about 3 hours. I measured the temperature and it didn't get above 120° F. I pulled it out and let it rest a bit and then put it in the fridge to cool.

After cooling down, I started slicing. Sure enough, it had the look, feel, and smell of bacon.

The real test was cooking it. I fried up a few slices and eagerly took a bite. Sure enough it was bacon.

I am very happy with the result. It's a lot of work to make bacon, from the curing time to the smoking, but I enjoyed the process. When I make it again, I'm going to try a maple syrup cure process to get a bit of a sweet flavor.

Give it a try, you'll have fun.

Posted by michael at 09:19 PM | Comments (32)
April 20, 2009
My Hotel Room in Gilroy, California

My Hotel Room in Gilroy, California from Michael Pusateri on Vimeo.
Posted by michael at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)
April 19, 2009
Dad's Easy Lasanga

Some have asked for my easy lasagna recipe. It's not really lasagna, since I don't use lasagna pasta. My daughter's call this "Dad's Easy Lasagna" since I can whip it up quick. It's more like a baked ziti than anything else. There are four kinds of cheese in this and the spinach is only added since Michele insisted. If left to our own devices, the girls and I would leave out the spinach.

Here's the recipe.

Dad's Easy Lasagna

1 box (1 lb.) penne pasta
1 jar (24 oz.) pasta sauce
1 tub (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
1 tub (6 oz.) feta cheese
1 bag (8 oz.) shredded parmesan cheese
1 bag (16 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup chopped spinach

The main prep is cooking up the penne pasta in boiling water until it's cooked. This is the longest part of prep.

I also put the pasta sauce and chopped spinach into the blender to reduce the spinach into the smallest particles I can.

In a large bowl I start mixing the pasta sauce/spinach with the pasta, the ricotta cheese and the feta cheese cheese. Why feta cheese in Italian food? Because it tastes damn good and holds up after baking.

Once thoroughly mixed, put the entire mixture into a 9"x13" baking dish.

I put the mozzarella cheese down first with the parmesan on top. I don't use the full bags of cheese. Just enough to cover in the density I think appropriate. We like a nice thick cheese upper crust. Use your best judgment.

Bake in the oven at 350°F for about 40 minutes, until the cheese starts to brown to your liking. I start checking the oven at 30 minutes.

After pulling it out of the oven, let it cool a bit. You want the give the various cheeses some time to pull together so you can make a nice slice. You can keep it in the fridge for a while, it makes a great leftover to reheat in the microwave.

Posted by michael at 08:25 PM | Comments (4)
April 12, 2009
Ode to the 'Ove' Glove

Many things advertised on TV are terrible. They don't as fun as they seem, or they don't work as well as you see, or sometimes they are simply rip offs.

Not so for the 'Ove' Glove. The 'Ove' Glove is all that and a bag of chips.

Above you see me pulling out my patented Dad's Easy Lasagna from the oven.

The 'Ove' Glove is an oven mitt, but not just any ordinary oven mitt. This one works fantastically well. The advertising says it's made with Nomex and kelvar. I don't know if it's true, but it definitely insulates your hands from serious heat. We've sued a pair over the last several months and that have dealt with everything we've tried.

Since it's a true glove and not a mitten or pot holder, you can get a good grip on things. The blue silicon rubber also helps with a good grip on hot things.

In a day of bad products and worse advertising, the 'Ove' Glove actually is worth the money. It gets the Cruft Manor seal of approval.

Posted by michael at 04:35 PM | Comments (2)
April 05, 2009
Microwave Pork Rinds

Wandering through the local Rite-Aid today with Mira, I did a literal double take when I saw this:

Yes, you are reading it right, microwavable pork rinds. In this case they are Lowrey's Bacon Curls. Also known as chicharrón, pork rinds are the fried skin of a pig. I've been known to snack on them on occasion, but have no great love. They are basically potato chips made out or pork skin. Truly a carnivores's snack.

I was baffled as to why someone would produce a version that microwaved like popcorn. Obviously it was a case for Cruft Labs to investigate.

The basic cooking method is identical to popcorn. Put the package in the microwave correct side up and cook for 2 minutes.

To be honest, I expected this to be terrible. I had almost written the blog entry in my mind until I poured the bag out onto the plate.

"Wow, they look like real pork rinds, not some mutant version.", I thought to myself. "Yeah, but they must taste horrible.", I rationalized. Then I tasted one, then another, then a third. They were good. In fact they were the best pork rinds I'd ever eaten.

I took the plate to Michele for a taste test. She tasted one, then another, then a third. We both liked them.

So let it be known that Lowrey's Bacon Curls aka microwavable pork rinds are good eating. That's a sentence I'd never thought I would write, but it's the truth.

We ended up eating the whole plate. Good thing I only bought one bag, otherwise we'd have cooked that one up too.

Posted by michael at 06:27 PM | Comments (2)
April 01, 2009
April Fool's Joke - 2009

Brief sentence that states an opinion that is diametrically opposed to the writer's previous views.

Acknowledgment that the writer had held opposing views in the past, but now has truly, honestly changed their ways.

More lying about the writer's new views on the a topic in an attempt to confuse the reader and convince them of a dramatic change of heart. Simple rationale based on the writing of others, using phases and terminology that have been previously mocked by the writer.

Impassioned speech regarding the new passion surrounding the previously rejected belief, going on at length to just how much the reader has been transformed into their thinking.

Image that goes further to illustrate the joke, attempted to cement it in reality.

Summary of previous explanations and final attempt to truly fool the reader into believe that the post on April 1st is true and note a joke.

Posted by michael at 05:44 AM | Comments (6)